5Q: Bob Rennie, Vancouver's 'Condo King'

Jennifer Kwan Yahoo Finance Canada
Bob Rennie is pictured in a handout photo
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Bob Rennie is pictured in a handout photo

Up at 4:45 a.m. seven days a week, Bob Rennie wastes little time during the day as work and play mostly blends together for the 57-year-old, big-time real estate marketer, who is commonly referred to as Vancouver's charismatic "Condo King."
 
This particular weekend morning, he's being driven around in an Audi S8 and stops in at White Spot, a West Coast restaurant chain known for its Triple-O sauce and kids Pirate Paks, to catch up with the "minister," he says, as in British Columbia's Housing Minister, Rich Coleman.
 
Presumably no shortage of chitchat there given the latest round of data that adds to the seesaw, where's-the-house-market-headed debate, more than a year after Ottawa clamped down on mortgage lending rules.
 
As founder of Rennie Marketing Systems, a leading real estate marketing firm in Vancouver, Rennie has promoted such projects as Fairmont Pacific Rim, where the condo portion was roughly $575 million, Shangri-La and Vancouver's 2010 Olympic Village, valued at roughly $1 billion, says Rennie.
 
Beyond that, Rennie, who is described as having a "God-like" status in the city given his ties to business and politics, is heavy in the art scene and has an art museum in Chinatown's Wing Sang building. With more than 30 years of dealings in the real estate market, when he speaks people typically listen.
 
Of all restaurants in the Vancouver area why White Spot?
 
White Spot in Langley is an easy place to have breakfast. I believe you still do business over a cup of coffee. It works then and it works now.
 
You like to do weekend meetings and your e-mail sign-off is 1,000%. What does that say about you?
 
It's a positive yes. Absolutely yes. It takes it away from maybe or is he ambivalent. Especially with e-mail, messages are so mixed. They're very abrupt and you can read in, yes, he's happy to do it or I'll tolerate you. I think 1,000% lets everyone know you're fine.
 
One Canadian economist characterized the housing market as "a near perfect soft landing with shades of taking flight again." How would you?
 
I can tell you the market for the next 15 years is going to be strong. Not off the charts, the big swings up in the market, I don't know what silver bullet would cause that. People aren't taking the risks of buying three or four condos now, hoping to get one for free and sell three of them off. The psychology of that Baby Boomer is gone. And the first-time buyer is much more utilitarian in what they're buying so, conservatively, it all works because we're an equity play here. We are not an income play.
 
What is your theory on Baby Boomers and the housing market?
 
The aging Baby Boomer will never buy up, they'll buy down. And we're hooked on this cliché statement: two buyers, one chequebook. Mom and Dad don't have the money they thought they were going to have. They will sell their home for whatever it's worth ... They will sell as long as they can find product to move down into. Their children have a low, shitty income. They can buy a place under $300,000 with their less than $50,000 income, but they can't save up the down payment. So they're getting the down payments from Mom and Dad or grandparents.
 
Does that rip apart all the fear-mongering about the oversupply in the condo market?
 
You've got the Baby Boomer saying, you know what, we don't need the two cars now. What it is, is they can't afford two cars anymore. They are reeling it in. They don't buy a new TV every year because it's got a flatter screen. It's socially acceptable to say I can't. If you plug that into condos we're looking at designing 750-800 square-foot one bedrooms, as opposed to our 550-600, and having a dining room that fits eight people. A living area that lives like a large two bedroom, but there's only one bedroom. I think that's what my buy-down, Baby Boomer wants.
 
There's a bit of a tension between where Vancouver ranks in terms of skyline (low) and the beauty of the city (high). Where do you think the skyline ranks and what about all the green glass boxes?
 
Robert A.M. Stern was brought on by the original Olympic Village developer to do the front two towers. He got in a car with a reporter and said in isolation the towers might be beautiful, but in accumulation it's absolute mediocrity. He insulted the architectural community, he insulted the city planners ... Some people may think that but they shouldn't really be saying it ... I believe that 20 or 25 years from now we will look at Vancouver, and we will look at the green glass in its entirety, as a memorable fabric of this city. As a defining fabric.
 
Who is one of the best artists out there that most people haven't heard of?

 
Our next show is Glenn Brown, who is a British artist ... Nobody here has really heard of him, but we've been with him since '93 and put together a collection of his paintings. He's somebody to super watch. For a young artist that's attainable, Pablo Bronstein.
 
You work a ton, what are some of your guilty pleasures?

 
I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't eat meat. I'm a very boring guy. I wake up at 4:45 seven days a week. My guilty pleasure? We're going to Pinkberry [Frozen Yogurt]. I drive over to West Vancouver to go to Pinkberry.
 
I read you get irritated by the term "Condo King." Given a choice, would you rather be dubbed "Condo King" or "Bob the Builder"?

 
It's better to be called the 'Condo King' and have some distorted reference to what you do than have none. It's probably more just me poking fun at myself when I say I don't like it. It comes with misconceptions. It sounds like you're a developer and it's pretty arrogant. I wouldn't know what a replacement would be. Bob the Builder is a cartoon so I'm pretty happy with that.
 
*This interview has been edited and condensed.

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